ISLAMABAD: More than 70 percent PTI members in Italy have allegedly paid the party’s annual membership fee through stolen credit cards.
The overseas chapter of the party after verification of the fraudulent financial transactions blocked the membership of those workers but kept the money and refused to refund it. Documents available with The News reveal that Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf had 4,389 registered members in Italy who paid €36 each as annual party membership fee for 2021-22. The annual membership generated €158,004 party funds. However, during the membership drive, the party leadership received complaints of fraudulent transactions. Owing to these complaints and some other matters, the intra-party elections were postponed in Italy.
The allegations of stolen credit cards prompted the ruling party to verify these memberships. After the scrutiny process that took almost seven months, the party’s overseas chapter blocked as many as 3,080 (70 percent of the total) members and announced the intra-party elections in Italy. For this purpose, the PTI OIC issued a notification on Jan 15, 2022 and confirmed that a lot of memberships have been blocked and only 1,309 members have qualified for the regional elections.
In its official response to The News queries, the head of PTI’s finance department in the UK informed that normally it takes seven days to approve the payment made through a credit card but contrary to these claims it took seven months for the party to block the membership of the workers allegedly involved in the financial fraud. According to the official response, the memberships were blocked because their credit card payments were not approved by a merchant bank. However, the email sent to the party workers by the finance department confirms the receipt of the payment. The party even issued them membership cards which are normally given to those whose payments are approved.
The ruling party’s UK-based finance department issued receipts and membership numbers to the party workers after receiving the payments. During the investigation, the scribe collected receipts of around 250 workers issued by the party. These receipts confirm that the membership fee was paid through credit cards.
Surprisingly, the receipts of payments clearly reflect a sham payment method, as in some cases only a single person has paid the membership fee on behalf of more than 70 workers. However, instead of raising any objection to such dubious transactions, the party’s finance department not only accepted the payment but issued them the party’s Member Coordinator numbers.
Following the complaints of payments through stolen credit cards for membership fee, PTI’s Office of International Chapter (OIC) on July 31, 2021, had issued a circular titled “Clarification on Credit Card payments during IPE 2021.”
Interestingly, the circular available on PTI’s official website bears no reference number, date or signature of the party’s office-bearer. Normally, the party’s official circulars or notifications bear reference numbers, dates and signatures of the party’s overseas chapter’s secretary.
The PTI OIC circular says, “In the event of any claim of unauthorised credit card use for the membership payment and subsequent claim of refund, finance board will be obliged to notify the authorities and share any information it has, including member ID /Registration information and the Nicop card, to law enforcement authorities and Nadra for appropriate action pertaining to unlawful fraudulent activity, which may even lead to blocking of NICOP ID card used in this event.”
However, no fraudulent payment has been reported to the authorities concerned neither in Italy nor in Pakistan.
Soon after the membership drive payment process concluded in Italy, the PTI OIC had issued a notification on Aug 2, 2021 and announced that the party had registered 4,389 paid members in Italy. The same notification also announced the intra-party election schedule in the European country that was supposed to be held on Sept 02, 2021. Later, the elections were postponed and one of the reasons was complaints about alleged fraudulent payments to party accounts through stolen credit cards.
PTI’s former secretary-general in Italy Mian Aftab Ahmed had also raised the issue of payments through stolen credit cards and informed the party leadership as well as Pakistan’s Embassy in Italy. However, he was told by the party’s OIC chapter’s secretary to keep a mum. According to him, if the European governments investigate this matter, this will not only be an embarrassment to the party but for Pakistan as well. There will be grave consequences of this illegal financial act, he said.
One of the party’s presidential candidates for Italy chapter Raja Shafqat Mehmood while challenging the election results sent a legal notice to the party leadership. In his legal notice, he also alleged that the party had received payments through stolen credit cards during the membership drive.
It is important to note that the PTI official website shows that Raja Shafqat had paid the annual fee on behalf of 26 members for the fiscal year 2021-22.
The financial fraud in the Italian chapter is just a tip of the iceberg. If properly investigated, the party’s South African chapter will be an eye opener because the party has 14,000 registered members in the country where none of the top leadership ever visited in the recent past. There are huge financial anomalies in the party’s South African chapter, claimed the party’s former office-bearer in Italy.
It is important to note that PTI OIC Secretary-General Abdullah Riar in an interview on a YouTube channel on Sept 7, 2021, had claimed that in 2021 the party’s overseas membership was recorded up to 35,000 and it is expected to reach 50,000 next year. Interestingly, the ruling party has a record number of registered party workers, almost 14,000 in South Africa where none of the party’s top leadership visited in lately. For every registered member, the party charges $60 in the North America region and 36 Euros in Europe as annual fee.
The payment receipts —- copies of which are available with The News —- show that after receiving the payments, the party awarded the member coordinator designation to those who paid annual fees on behalf of many workers. One such member coordinator is Tajjamul Hussain who paid €2808 on behalf of 78 workers in seven different transactions on the same day. Interestingly, for each transaction, the party awarded him a separate member coordinator (MC) number.
Another party member Nisar Afzal paid the annual membership fee on behalf of 55 members through credit card. He paid €1980 on behalf of 55 workers in three different credit card transactions and was given three different MC numbers.
Similarly, Chaudhry Ikhlaq paid €1296 on behalf of 36 workers and was given two MC numbers.The documents further show that on July 29, 2021, Muhammad Javed paid €756 on behalf of 21 members to the party funds through credit card and was allotted membership number MC134743.
The News sent a detailed questionnaire to PTI OIC Secretary Abdullah Riar.
Mr. Riar replied that the questions are related to the finance department and he has forwarded these queries to Mr. Mohammad Iqbal — head of PTI Finance Department in the UK and he will answer all these questions.
Muhammad Iqbal, PTI’s Finance Board head in the UK, while responding to the written queries replied that the PTI membership is done via an online form and electronic payment is received either by a credit card or via bank transfer.
“When membership is closed, a membership number is announced as a provision number based upon the number of forms received and expected payments. In Italy, after the cutoff date there were a large number of memberships whose payments were either not made though bank transfer or whose credit card payments were not approved by a merchant bank after our 3D secure process. (this can take up to 7 days after a payment is made),” he said.
He said the other factor here is that we confirm an overseas membership by Nicop card and if the given Nicop card is not matched against the name given, the membership is also blocked.Talking about the number of membership in South Africa and unavailability of members’ list on the website, he said: “In terms of membership by the country, this is declared at each election and no figures are reported on an ongoing basis, with such a huge membership base numbers change on a daily basis and there is no legal requirement to list by the country”.
About informing the authorities on alleged credit card fraud the PTI Finance Board head said: “In terms of reporting to the authorities a failed payment does not constitute an offence, furthermore our payment merchant would not share any details on why a payment has been rejected …”
To a question about multiple payments by a single individual, Mr Iqbal said: “We do not store any payment data due to being PCI compliant and would not be aware if single payees were accumulated. The PTI has a strong following in Europe and the online membership form is based on our overseas Pakistani community filling in the forms in an honest manner”.
The News tried to get a version of Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting Fawad Chaudhry, Special Assistant to Prime Minister on Political Communication Dr Shahbaz Gill and PTI’s former chief organiser Senator Saifullah Niyazee.
However, none of them responded to this scribe’s repeated calls for three days.The News also sent a written questionnaire to Fawad Chaudhry and Shahbaz Gill but even then no response was received from them.
This scribe then contacted PTI Secretary General and Federal Minister for Planning, Development and Special Initiatives Asad Umar. Some government official from the minister’s office called back this scribe and asked for a written questionnaire.
This correspondent sent written queries and later this scribe was informed by Asad Umar’s office that State Minister Farrukh Habib will answer these questions. In the meantime, State Minister for Information and Broadcasting Farrukh Habib called this scribe and said he doesn’t know much about party’s overseas matters.
“However, as the party updates the US authorities on all the activities under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), there must be some mechanism in the European countries as well. I am sure the party keeps record and inform the authorities there too.”
When asked about the membership payments allegedly through stolen credit cards and blocking the party memberships after verification, he said he doesn’t know much.“I have to contact Mr Abdullah Riar and ask him about this matter,” he said.This scribe informed him that Mr. Abdullah Riar has already given his version.
The News also sent a written questionnaire to State Minister for Information and Broadcasting Farrukh Habib. He said he will get back to this scribe after getting reply from the overseas chapter. Later, he forwarded the same reply which PTI Finance Department UK’s head Muhammad Iqbal sent to this correspondent.
“One thing more no such money received in PTI accounts. Membership cards automatically generated in response through email when someone subscribed membership. But if payment not cleared due to any reasons membership stand blocked. This is our funding system which is foolproof and quite capable of responding to any such funding itself,” added the state minister in his written reply to this scribe.
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